Abandoned school campus in Wisconsin

Edgerton Public Grade Schools, Edgerton Wisconsin
Date added: July 08, 2023 Categories: Wisconsin School
View from northwest (1986)

Early formalized education was appreciated among the pioneers of this rural area on the northern border of Rock County. Evidence can be traced back to the first permanent settler of Edgerton (1842), William Bliven. In 1845, three years before Wisconsin became a state, a one-room school was started out of Bliven's log home. Within that year a small red schoolhouse was built on Bliven's farm which would serve as the educational, civil, and religious meeting place for the next ten years. In 1856, the first school meeting was held and the district became School District No. 8 for the Town of Fulton.

In 1856, the small size of the school building and the increasing number of school children became the subject of concern and heated debate. A two-story brick structure was proposed to be built on the existing subject school site at the corner of Rollin, Swift and Henry Streets. (In 1858 this became the first official city block in Edgerton.) At the time, this was owned by H.S. Swift. Swift, an enterprising man with a large family, had strong faith in the future of Edgerton. He led the group in favor of building a new school. However, Stile Hakes, a man with grown children and no vested interest in the school, led the opposition to this venture. His main concern as the highest taxpayer in the village was that the building would remain unfilled and thus be an unnecessary expenditure. The debate peaked at one of the most controversial of the school meetings. The final vote would have been a tie had it not been for board member M. Chas Dickinson... Dickinson walked five miles after a day of painting to cast the determining vote in favor of erecting the new building.

At this time there were 250 school-age children in the district, 46 of whom were in private schools. There were two parochial schools (German and Norwegian Lutheran) ; the others were in private homes. By 1858 the public school was overflowing, and in 1870 two rooms were added on.

By 1892 the city of Edgerton was well established. The population was now 2000, an increase of 1500 in 30 years. Industry was prosperous, it had been 40 years since the first white bricks were made, and the tobacco industry had grown to such a point that in 1878 Edgerton was the largest producer of cigar leaf tobacco in the world. Immigrants from Germany, Norway, and Sweden who had first settled in the east continued to migrate to the west to find prosperity. A significant number settled in Edgerton.

With such growth in the early 1890s, the issue of school overcrowding once again confronted the people of Edgerton as well as those towns which comprised the Edgerton Joint District No. 8: Fulton, Porter, Center, Janesville, Milton, Albion, Dunkirk, and Sumner. In February 1892, controversial Common Council meetings ensued. The high taxpayers were opposed and turned out in large numbers to voice their opposition to bond the city to complete the proposed new school building. The more liberal-minded people, however, though initially voted down, did not give up. Determined to have a new structure to adequately fill the obvious need for additional space, they called for compromise. In the end, the city was bonded for 16 years for the amount of $16,000.

G.S. Schureman, from Rockford, Illinois, was retained as architect. His design became a substantial non-ornamented structure built of "Edgerton Creamery Brick," made from local clay, constructed to serve grades first through twelfth. Eleven years later (1903), a need for a separate primary school was assessed and a second building was added to the south of the already existing school building, the designs based on drawings by Frank Kemp.

Kemp also orchestrated the design of the third building for the Edgerton Public School campus, which is across Swift Street and directly to the west. This building served as the high school while the 1892 and 1903 buildings continued as primary and middle schools. In the late 1930s, with the assistance of Public Works Administration funding, a gymnasium was added to the south of the red brick high school building, completing this unique four-building campus.

In 1957, a new elementary school was built on the northwest edge of Edgerton. This was joined in 1963 by a new high school. These served as middle schools as well until the new middle school was completed in 1979. Today, the "old high school" has been taken over by IKI Manufacturing for office space, while the "old gymnasium" building has been turned into a Tri-County Community Center. The subject centers have been vacant since 1979.

The school district sold the buildings at public auction in 1980, after which the Common Council rezoned the project site for multi-family use. In September of 1983, a local Historic Preservation Commission was formed to propose the creation of an Historic District which would include the school buildings.

The noteworthy architect, Frank Kemp, from Madison and Beloit, Wisconsin, designed the 1903 structure and also made the revisions and addition on the existing 1892 building. Many residences and buildings (Circa 1895-1910) in Edgerton are the work of Frank Kemp. The Central Bank Shelter (one block from the schools on Swift Street), the Carlton Hotel, Culton House, H.W. Childe-House, and the Ed Peters-House are some of them, all within a 2 to 5 block distance from the schools. Identifiable features of his architectural style are prominent on the school buildings: flared roofs, three dimensional facades, dormers, and cupolas. Kemp also designed other school buildings in Wisconsin: Merrill, Brodhead, Janesville, Stoughton, Beloit, and Evansville.

Most historically noteworthy of former pupils of the subject schools is world-renowned child author Sterling North (1906-1974). He was author of 27 books including the best-selling So Dear To My Heart and Rascal. Both were filmed as full-length feature movies by Walt Disney Studios.

Building Description

The Edgerton School buildings are two-story, basically rectangular cream brick structures with simple Romanesque styling. The structures are on a raised basement of rusticated stone with heavy jack-arch and rectangular lintels. The buildings sit on a trapezoidal-shaped lot near the center of the city of Edgerton. The downtown shopping and commercial district is less than one block to the south of the subject buildings.

The larger building (Building 1) on the north end of the property was built in 1892. The other, smaller building (Building 2) was constructed in 1903. Both buildings are on the same parcel of land.

Building 1:

This building is rectangular in shape with both south and east projections. The roof style is hip with gabled dormers on the west, north, and east facades. The west dormer is ornamented on top with a square cupola, a style much resembling the main roof. There are eight round-headed openings on the cupola which are presently boarded up. The dormers have a grouping of 3 windows typically. The north and northwest dormers are flanked by short wood or concrete posts. Finial accents are noted. To the right of the east gabled dormer is a small dormer presently boarded up.

The flared roofs' eaves project dramatically beyond the wall of the entire perimeter of the building. Wooden brackets attached to the wide cornice support the eaves.

The three main entrances of this building are heavy and substantial. The north and west entries feature recessed double doors with glass panels. Above the north doors is a semi-circular glass transom. The entrances are surrounded by concrete molding. The east (rear) exit is of the same fashion with a rectangular glass transom of three pane sections.

Single fire escape doors on the facade are also wooden with glass sections. A single glass transom is a common feature above these doors.

There are two individual skylights on this building. One is placed directly behind the north facade dormer. The other is immediately west of the dominant corbeled chimney at the center of the building.

The typical window is paired, long, and rectangular. Above a grouping of two are low-arched wooden panels with a garland-type motif. The segmental arches are emphasized by bricks layed with butt end exposed, creating a visually articulated lintel. The windows are all detailed with sizable stone sills. A single window with the same detailing is also a common feature. Window groupings differ at various facades.

Fire escapes are prominent on the north and east sides of the buildings. The two buildings are connected via fire escape bridging.

Building 2:

This rectangular building, though constructed in 1903, is basically very comparable to Building 1. The roof style is the same - hipped, with flared edging and decorative brackets. The cupola is of the same design; however, it is more grand at the center of the building. The typical long rectangular windows are uniform in groupings of two to five, except at the west entry projection. This facade is more decorative with the incorporation of the rounded arch and fanned windows at the first and second levels, and the twelve-paned rectangular transom above the recessed double door entry. Window openings feature distinctive keystone details and compound arches. To the rear of the buildings, there are less windows. Fire escape doors interrupt the grouping of the windows. A fire escape is prominent on the east side of the building.

Building Modifications:

In 1903, when Building 2 was constructed, additions and renovations were made to Building 1. The original flat roof was changed to a hip roof. Utilizing the same materials and design as Building 2, prominent flared roof edges and bracketing were added. The skylights were added at this time as well. A wing was built on the south end of the original building to accommodate more classrooms. Additional revisions, primarily the addition of concrete molding, were made to the entryways at the north and west facades. Because school records prior to 1921 were destroyed, however, more specific modifications are unknown.

Later in the 1920s, fire escapes were added to the buildings. On the north end of Building 1, first and second-floor windows on both sides of the building were modified to accommodate doorways for first escape access. The top section of each window and detailing typically remained.

It was at this time the two buildings were connected via a steel bridging structure. Again, a window on the south facade of Building 1 and north facade of Building 2 was modified to make a doorway. Likewise, to the rear of Building 2 on both first and second floors a window in a grouping of four was adapted for the same purposes. A small storage and exit projection from the rear of Building 2 was also added, no date is attainable on this, however.

The buildings have been vacant for several years. Thus, they are deteriorated, having become the home of vandals and pigeons. The ground floor, or basement, in both buildings, has stone foundation walls, as well as remnants of piping, mechanicals, and lavatory facilities. Storage areas and unfinished areas are common. The floors are concrete. The first and second stories are comprised of various large rectangular classrooms. The stairways are neither elaborate nor decorative, but are more functional with plain railings. Small open areas at stair landings are common, serving as "lead-in" to classrooms. Pressed metal ceilings and wainscotting are intact. The paint on the walls and trim is peeling. Some lite fixtures, windows, doorways, etc. have been destroyed. There is ladder access only to the uppermost (3rd) level of Building 1; one section of that area is finished off with walls and ceiling. The other areas have exposed rafters. A stair access to the third level of Building 2 appears to have been used as only storage area. The classrooms have hardwood floors, some of which have heaved.

There are no outbuildings on the property. There are concrete walks around the buildings and up to the entrances which are in need of maintenance. Small shrubbery on the north and west sides of the buildings is in need of trimming. The parking lot, which dominates the east area of the site, is enclosed by a chainlink fence on the north and east property lines. The buildings have not been moved.

Across Swift Street to the west are the other two buildings which, along with the subject buildings, comprised the four-building campus of the Edgerton Public School. The red brick structure, built in 1907, simulates the architectural design of the subject buildings in terms of materials, features, elevations, etc. The last building added to the campus (late 1930s) varies in style but is comparable in terms of elevation. Residential housing and the downtown district neighborhood is of the same late 19th-century Italianate and Romanesque styling.

Edgerton Public Grade Schools, Edgerton Wisconsin View from northwest (1986)
View from northwest (1986)

Edgerton Public Grade Schools, Edgerton Wisconsin Building 2 View from west (1986)
Building 2 View from west (1986)

Edgerton Public Grade Schools, Edgerton Wisconsin Building 2 Close up of window and entry detail (1986)
Building 2 Close up of window and entry detail (1986)

Edgerton Public Grade Schools, Edgerton Wisconsin Building 1 View from west (1986)
Building 1 View from west (1986)

Edgerton Public Grade Schools, Edgerton Wisconsin Building 1 Close up of window and entry detail (1986)
Building 1 Close up of window and entry detail (1986)

Edgerton Public Grade Schools, Edgerton Wisconsin Building 1 View from north (1986)
Building 1 View from north (1986)

Edgerton Public Grade Schools, Edgerton Wisconsin View from east (1986)
View from east (1986)

Edgerton Public Grade Schools, Edgerton Wisconsin Building 1 View from east (1986)
Building 1 View from east (1986)

Edgerton Public Grade Schools, Edgerton Wisconsin Building 2 View from east (1986)
Building 2 View from east (1986)

Edgerton Public Grade Schools, Edgerton Wisconsin View from west at south property boundary (1986)
View from west at south property boundary (1986)